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How To Deal With 7 Uncomfortable Situations You’ll Face In Your First Job

Here’s what to do when you are faced with an office bully, a mile-long to-do list, or a cringeworthy mistake.

How To Deal With 7 Uncomfortable Situations You’ll Face In Your First Job
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Uncomfortable situations are part of everyone’s work life. While it will never be smooth sailing all of the time, your first job out of college can feel like a minefield of potentially embarrassing missteps.

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Here are some of those common circumstances that newly minted professionals often come across, and suggestions on how to deal with them in a workplace-appropriate way.

1. Making A Cringeworthy Mistake

Unfortunately, screwing up is an inevitable part of the learning process. When you’re in a new job, you’re trying to figure out how a million things work. It’s unrealistic to think that you’ll sail through without any blunders. Psychology and marketing professor Art Markman previously wrote for Fast Company, “I have never met anyone who didn’t make a mistake. And some of those mistakes have been costly.”

In most cases, what will matter the most is how you react after your mistake. As Gwen Moran previously wrote for Fast Company, “If it was a mistake made in good faith or one-time error in judgment rather than something deeply immoral or illegal, you can turn it around and possibly even make a mistake work for you.” Admit that you screwed up, apologize, and set up systems in place to prevent you from making the similar errors in the future. For example, say that you entered an incorrect figure on a client report. Next time, have a work colleague check over the report before handling it to your boss.

What you shouldn’t do, Moran reported, is to keep putting yourself down. Not only will you continue to feel bad, but endlessly apologizing can hurt your credibility, Supriya Desai, a management consultant, told Moran


Related: What I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started My First Job 


2.  Working With A Colleague Who Doesn’t Pull Their Own Weight

Not everyone is driven to do their best in the professional world. Just like your former classmate that would mysteriously get sick whenever you’re scheduled to work on a group project, you might have to deal with lazy coworkers who don’t do their work, but are more than happy to take the credit for your hard work.

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If you’re not the type to speak up, you might be tempted to complain to your office BFF. But as University of Arkansas professor Jeffrey Lohr previously told Fast Company, venting anger often doesn’t help. Instead, it just makes you angrier.

Instead, try to have a conversation with your coworker, Markman suggested. Your coworker might not realize they’re not pulling their weight or aren’t intentional about taking credit for your work. If they don’t change their behaviors, you can push yourself to be more visible–speak up at meetings so your boss is aware of your extensive involvement in the project, Markman wrote.

3. Feeling Like You Don’t Know What You’re Doing

In the perfect world, you’ll get comprehensive training before you start an assignment. But the working world can be a little messy, and vague instructions are part of the course from time to time.

The way to fix this is to be assertive at the beginning of each assignment, writes Robert C. Pozen, author of Extreme Productivity, Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours. “If you receive an assignment with unclear goals, ask for clarification right then and there. Don’t leave your boss’s office or hang up the phone until you are satisfied that you know what you need to do.”


Related: How To Get Ahead In Your Career When Your Boss Doesn’t Have Time For You 


As you progress on the project, keep your boss updated on your progress, Pozen urged. Each time, make it clear what you need from your boss. If this still doesn’t give you clarity, try to find someone else within the organization who is familiar with the work that you do and can give you some form of guidance.

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4. Finding Yourself Overwhelmed With Too Many Responsibilities

As a young grad, you want to be as enthusiastic as possible. So you say yes to every assignment, eager to go above and beyond. But one day you realize, it’s all too much. Your to-do list is so long you don’t know where to start.

Before you have a mental breakdown at work, assess where you are in terms of burnout, Fast Company‘s Rich Bellis previously wrote. If you’re pretty close, be selfish and prioritize self-care like meditation and exercise. Then dedicate some time to prioritize your to-dos by urgency and importance. If it seems like everything is urgent, then you might have to go to your boss for their thoughts on what you should do first. As Bellis wrote, “While asking for help can feel like admitting failure, you won’t be doing yourself or your company any favors by pretending all is well when it isn’t.”

5. Realizing That Your Day-To-Day Tasks Aren’t What You Thought You’d Be Doing

As companies grow and change, so do roles and responsibilities. Liz Wessel, CEO and cofounder of online job marketplace WayUp, previously told Fast Company that employees should always have a sense of flexibility with any job they take. Of course, it’s one thing to be in a job where those unexpected responsibilities help you grow as a professional, and another when they make you disillusioned and downright depressed on Monday morning.


Related: Nine Reasons Why That High-Paying Job Is Making You Miserable


Molly Brennan, founding partner of executive search firm Koya Leadership Partners, told Fast Company that anyone in this situation should first evaluate what it is they really want to be doing at work, and see if they can take on extra assignments that are more in line with that. Brennan said, “I see plenty of candidates who think a new job is the answer, but once they ask to do more of what they love at their current job, it makes things interesting and compelling again.”

If this doesn’t work, then Brennan suggest taking the time to figure out what it is you want, and then start networking. “Don’t do anything dramatic,” she urged. After all, a new job might come with its own set of unexpected tasks.

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6. Being Undermined By The Office Bully

Unfortunately, you don’t always leave bullies behind after school. Some of them end up working in offices. Whether you’re consistently being humiliated in front of others, or having rumors about you spread behind your back, having to deal with a bully at work takes an emotional toll, and can drive you to quit even when you’re otherwise enjoying your work.

Lynne Curry, HR expert and author of Beating The Workplace Bully: A Tactical Guide To Taking Charge told Gwen Moran that the best time to stop bullying is “as soon as you start to see it happening.” Train yourself to stay calm and remain unnerved, and document, in detail, the circumstances of their bullying behaviors. Curry said that at times, you might be able to stop bullies by calling their bluff. For example, if they criticize your work, you can ask “what would you have done differently?” Curry said.

Of course, this approach doesn’t always work. So the best bet would be to find someone within the organization who can fight and “intervene on your behalf,” Curry suggested. This might be HR, or someone else with the power to keep the bully accountable for their actions.


Related: Everyone Knows HR Is Broken, Here’s How To Fix It 


7. Having To Stand Up For Yourself When No One Else Will

Workplace jerks aside, you might find yourself in situations where only you can advocate for your own best interests–like asking for a raise or a promotion. Of course, you might be able to enlist the help of others, but it’s up to you to initiate the relationship, and figure out how you can be of value to them before asking for that person’s help. Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of Forget A Mentor, Find A Sponsor  previously told Fast Company “The big principle is to give before you get.”

If you’re the kind of person who finds the thought of standing up for yourself daunting, some practice might be necessary. Negotiation trainer Jacqueline Twillie recommended practicing in low-stakes situation first, like calling up your internet provider for a lower rate. Of course, when asking for a raise or a promotion, it goes without saying that you should do your homework and document your achievements. Jessica Jaffe, senior Global PR programs manager at Glassdoor, told Fast Company, “Compile the data to build a strong argument about your own compensation.” At the end of the day, no one is invested in your career much as you are, so no one is more qualified than you  when it comes to fighting for what you want.

About the author

Anisa is the Editorial Assistant for Fast Company's Leadership section. She covers everything from personal development, entrepreneurship and the future of work.

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